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Usually the time before dinner, 4:00 to 5:00, is crazy hour in our house. The kids have finished their responsibilities -- their schoolwork is done. Their areas of the house they're responsible for (we call them jurisdictions) are clean. They may have finished all their music practice, and here we are: free time!
I'll often encourage them to go build something. Go draw a picture. Go do something with all this energy you've got. Go outside and ride your bike or jump up and down and play. But if it's raining outside or if the slide in the playroom isn't something they're interested in playing on, then I can tell, oh, my, if I don't get this under control, there's going to be mutiny on the ship. So, sometimes I'll just have them sit down with a book.
I try to get them to practice self-control and sit and have quiet time, and for me, that's what I call "time out." If I can tell that things are heading toward rowdiness, like climbing on the outside of the staircase, which is a major no-no, I use sit-down time out for the younger children, sometimes even the middle-aged ones.
It's not for correction, because I learned early on from a book that I read, The Heart of Anger, the sorts of things kids are struggling with in their heart, and I remember thinking, "I don't want my children to feel angry. I want them to feel like I'm there for them." So I give them constructive things to do with their energy, and to learn to practice self-control.
The idea is that they think, "Wow, I feel good about myself now. I've obeyed Mommy. I've sat here for 15 minutes, read this book, calmed down, didn't have to get in trouble, but actually sat and looked at a book for 15 minutes. And now I can get up and go do something else."
Meltdowns and Toy Grabbing
But then there are the times when my little ones will throw a fit -- lie out on the floor and try to express their emotions that way -- and they quickly learn they don't get whatever it is they're throwing a fit for. They're not going to get the expected outcome. Whatever it is they're throwing a fit for, number one, I never give it to them. It goes up or it gets put away, or they have to learn to wait and talk patiently and politely with me. This is what I expect, and I have to train them.
Otherwise kids don't know what we expect from them. Sometimes we think they know, but we haven't said, "If you want this, this is how you ask. This is what Mommy expects." So if they're laid out on the floor, throwing a fit, a meltdown, whatever you want to call it, I just quickly get down on the floor with them.
Our youngest, Josie, is 2 years old, and she's at that place right now. The other day she was lying across the stairs. She was so frustrated that she could not get her baby doll stroller to go up the stairs with her, and she was having an anger fit at that moment. So I leaned over next to her ear, and I whispered in her ear, "Josie, it's okay. You don't have to cry. You don't have to scream and throw a fit. Stand up and let Mommy show you how to carry your stroller upstairs."
By training her and teaching her how to do it she was able to make it to the top of the stairs, and she was as happy as a lark. Other times it may be that they're throwing a fit because they want something, and they literally are being selfish and they have to take a turn. Around our house, the kids all have to take turns -- we don't have five tricycles. So inevitably there'll be screaming and grabbing.
I immediately will do the same thing. I get down at their level, and I whisper in their ear and say, "You know what? It's not your turn. "It's brother's turn. You need to talk sweet, ask brother, 'May I please have a turn after you?'" If they're still screaming and throwing a fit I set a timer for five minutes. And each child gets a turn after five minutes. If they don't get off the bike or share the toy then they lose their turn. They learn it's all about consequence versus privilege. It's not a right. It's about cooperation and respect for each other.
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